What’s in It for Us? A Study of the Gospel of Matthew: Part 4

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Matthew 16: 24-28

If you are finding being a Christian is easy, you are probably not doing too good a job of it. The difficulty involved is outlined by Jesus in this passage. What is also expressed is the annoying way Jesus has of avoiding “beating around the bush” and getting directly to what he means.

If you come to believe that Jesus is who he says he is, and you desire to walk with him, to spend time with him, to be associated with him, there is one requirement. There is a kind of membership card waiting for potential disciples of Jesus: “If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let them renounce themselves, take up their cross and follow me.”

The idea of “renouncing” myself flies in the face of all we are taught. “Look out for number one” is the mantra we are taught. If it is difficult, even painful, it is to be avoided. Pleasure is to be pursued, comfort is to be desired at all costs. It is an outlook that draws one deeper and deeper into self.

But Jesus, who loves you just the way you are, loves you too much to just leave you that way. While Jesus could be gentle with the broken and suffering, he pulled no punches with those would-be followers:

“You want to find me, follow me, to keep me company, listen to me, ultimately change your life and your world? Well then, you are to do something difficult, since no growth, no change, happens without struggle and effort. You are not to take up your soft, feather pillow and follow me. You are not to go through life clutching your security blanket. No, if you wish to follow me, if you want to be known as my friend, my sister, my brother, then you must take up your own rough and painful cross and follow after me. Your cross is unlike anyone else’s, yet the struggle to carry it, and the pain that arises from it unites you with your sisters and brothers throughout the world. Therefore you never carry your cross alone. There are tens of hundreds of thousands of hands willing to help you. And I will be found in all of them.”

Some might say that being gay is a cross we must bear. I would loudly disagree! My being gay has been one of the most profound blessings God has ever graced me with. If the cross is connected to the blessing, it comes from the prejudice and mean-spiritedness of others. Yet even with such a “back-door cross,” people have been present to help me get over the difficulties I have encountered. As I look back on my journey thus far, I notice how often Jesus has worked through the hearts and hands of fellow pilgrims who, having heard the call, have joined in the procession.

Matthew 17: 19-20; 18:1-5

When we look through each of the gospels, the need for trust, for faith, arises over and over again. In Matthew 17, after Jesus cures the epileptic child, the apostles ask why they could not do the same thing. A frustrated Jesus bluntly tells them, “Because of your little faith.”

We go through our day putting our faith in a variety of things we hardly give a second thought to. When you sit, you trust the chair will hold you. When you go to bed, you trust that you will not float up to the ceiling. You trust that the earth will continue spinning, the seasons will change, the list goes on and on. But for some reason, when it comes to trusting Jesus, we may readily say we trust him, but in practice, our results tell a different story.

So how are we to trust Jesus (which is yet another expression of our love for him)? Matthew 18: 1-5 gives the answer. When asked by his disciples who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven, Jesus chooses the absolute least, most powerless one in the area: a child. It is the childlike that are the greatest. Why? Because children find it quite natural to trust.

Unless harmed or abused in some way, children have a great capacity to trust the world and the people in it. Such openness can get them into trouble and needs to be directed, but it is this ability to greet the world with wonder and awe and joy that Jesus says is necessary for our spiritual growth and eternal happiness.

As gay and lesbian people, we are, more often than not, taught not to trust: not to trust our feelings, our desires, our lived experiences of ecstasy and rapture as God’s gay children. We are to listen to others. They will tell us who we are, they will tell us our story, they and they alone will tell us what is true about us.

The proper theological term for this is balony! When you and I take Jesus seriously, then we must take his admonition to trust him just as seriously. Once we do this, however many times we falter or have to start again, we will find ourselves falling more and more deeply in love with Jesus, who is brother to all GLBT people. We will be reminded that Jesus has never lied to us, he has never harmed us or degraded us (do not confuse Jesus with some who claim to speak for him). All Jesus has ever done, and is doing at this moment, is loved us, loved his beautiful gay and lesbian sisters and brothers. And when we come to realize that Jesus, by his cross and resurrection, has proven his love and trustworthiness, then the kingdom of God has truly broken into our lives.

Matthew 19: 13-15

Once again, we find Jesus with children. Jesus never had any problem associating with the weak, the powerless, those who counted for nothing in the eyes of society, but his apostles had other ideas. A great rabbi like Jesus needed to rest, and you cannot rest with screaming, squealing kids tugging at you.

But the parents of the children brought them to Jesus so that he might touch them. It was believed that, if a holy person touched you, a bit of their holiness would rub off. So the little ones are brought to Rabbi Jesus.

To the apostles, who thought they were helping Jesus, these children were a nuisance. But Jesus thought otherwise. He is angry at his followers for keeping the children from him. Why? Perhaps it is because, in their young faces, was reflected the kind of people Jesus came for and could easily help; those who had come to realize that, of themselves, they were powerless to change their lot in life. These children needed someone bigger and stronger and more capable than themselves. And Jesus wanted to supply what they lacked.

The same goes for us. In this world, for all the strides we have made toward acceptance, gay folk are still despised and feared by many, hated by some. A good number of such people are found in churches that, if not outright hostile toward us, at least look upon us unofficially as second class members, the “damaged goods” of the Kingdom of God. We can easily become discouraged and angry. Some, for reasons known only to them and their God, have chosen to take their own lives in order to end the pain.

But just as Jesus welcomed the children, he always welcomes us, and not as second or third class anything. When Jesus calls you, as the precious, priceless individual that you are, he looks upon you with love and announces to all in heaven and earth, “Let my beloved come to me.” As a despised people, we can nurse our hurts and hatreds. We can wallow in self-loathing and buy into the lies that have killed far too many of us physically and spiritually. Or we can come to Jesus, our mighty Beloved One, nestle close to his heart, torn open for us on the cross, and draw from his strength to go on witnessing to his presence, in the world at large and to our wounded gay and lesbian brothers and sisters. It is a choice to either remain powerless, or to receive the blessing of power and peace from him who has called us and passionately loves us.

Matthew 20: 29-34

Matthew uses a term in this passage that comes up from time to time in the other gospels as well. Matthew says Jesus was “moved with compassion.”

Those of you who speak more than one language know how hard it is at times to properly translate something into another tongue because you always lose something, a little nuance that just does not carry over well. This is such a case. Scholars say that, in the Greek, the idea behind Jesus being “moved with compassion” is that Jesus, seeing the pitiful plight of the two blind men, is so touched by their sufferings that his very insides felt like they were being twisted around. If you take that understanding of the term and add it to the meaning of “compassion,” which means “to suffer with,” we gain great insight into the person of Jesus.

These two blind, suffering souls cry out as Jesus passes by, hoping he will not be like the others, but will help them. Jesus does stop, calls them over, then asks them something that, on the surface, may seem strange given the circumstances: “What do you want me to do for you?” He can see that these two are blind, what in the world does he think they want him to do for them? Yet Jesus knew the power of the spoken word to harm and to heal. Hopefully we have all tasted the sweetness that comes from loving words. And I am all too sure we have tasted the bitterness of hate speech. There is no such thing as something being “just a word.” These men have been told by the crowd to shut-up and, basically, remember how worthless they are. But Jesus, as always, has a better plan.

“What do you want me to do for you?” elicits “Lord, we want to see.” In the NRSV translation it is, “Lord, let our eyes be opened.” They are physically blind and, possibly, blind to their own worth as God’s children. The darkness they stumble around in is doubly dark, and so Jesus is “moved with compassion”. He suffers with these brothers of his, and thus he lives up to his name. “Jesus” in Hebrew is “Yeshua,” which means “Yaweh saves.” Jesus, Yahweh’s Son, out of the boundless compassion of his heart, is going to save these men, returning physical sight and a deeper insight of self-knowledge and God-knowledge.

Are you like the blind men in this passage? Are you spiritually blind? Are you blind to your own worth as the child of God you were created to be? Then know this: at this moment, Jesus is looking at you and is moved with compassion. There is healing in his hand and salvation in his heart, ready to be poured out upon you.

But Jesus, being the gentleman that he is, will not force himself or his healing upon anyone. You have to make the first move, you have to call out, “Lord, I want to see, I want to know, I need you…now,” Jesus will not enter where he is not wanted.

So, if you enjoy sitting in the dirt by the roadside, shivering in the darkness, you may do so. However, Jesus is closer to you than any darkness, and he is willing to save you from that destructive darkness. The choice, as always, is yours.